Winter Eye Conditions: Dry Eye

January 30, 2013

As we discussed last week, Pink Eye can be more frequent in the winter months. The same holds true for many cases of dry eye. One common misconception about ocular dryness involves the presence of tearing; often, patients will notice that their eyes tear very frequently and are surprised when told their eyes are actually dry. Their eyes are “wet,” so how can they be dry? It can be easier to understand with an example: your eye will tear reflexively if an eyelash or other foreign body falls into it. The same holds true for dryness; just like an eyelash in the eye, dryness makes the surface of the eye irritated, and it will tear in an attempt to flush out the irritant. While beneficial when there is an actual foreign material in the eye, these flushing tears are often of a low viscosity, meaning that they are thin and do little to provide adequate lubrication for the surface. If you are noticing frequent tearing and/or eyes that are sore, difficult to keep open, or have a feeling of a foreign body in the eye, an evaluation with any of our eye care professionals can help to reduce, or even eliminate, your ocular discomfort.

Dry Eye Symptoms Can Include:

  • Irritation
  • A feeling of dryness
  • Tearing
  • Pain
  • Discomfort
  • Redness
  • Difficulty opening eyes and/or eyes “crusted” shut in the mornings
  • Blurred, fluctuating vision

 

Why this can be more prevalent in the winter:
Heaters and low humidity areas are prevalent in Buffalo’s cold winter months. Heaters can dry out our eyes, leading to ocular discomfort and irritation; when dry eye is severe enough, it can even increase the risk of ocular infection.

Colder months can also mean an increase in indoor activities; prolonged staring activities alone can increase dry eye; when coupled with exposure to low humidity and artificial heating systems, it is no wonder that many patients will notice an increase in dryness. It is suggested that, when performing staring activities (reading, television watching, or working on a computer) for a prolonged period of time, patients remember to take frequent breaks and attempt to be aware of their blinking habits. Computer use has been shown to decrease blink rate significantly; in our digital world, it is important to not only be aware of this, but to be proactive in your own ocular health. Lubricating drops, or, artificial tears, are an excellent over-the-counter method of decreasing dryness. One caveat, always buy “name brand” eye drops and avoid drops whose primary focus is decreasing redness (eg. Clear Eyes) as they can cause rebound inflammation with overuse. Quality brands suggested are: Systane, Optive, and Theratears. If you wear contact lenses, it is recommended that preservative-free lubricant drops are used.

 Other factors which can impact dryness:

  • thyroid disorders
  • medications
  • sleep apnea

  • systemic dryness